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Could a Trump presidency lead to an independent California?

Campaign for California to secede from the United States gathers momentum, as the tech community decides to take matters into its own hands

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: December 2016

As the dust settles on one of the most significant political events in history, people around the world are reflecting, and asking what a Trump presidency will mean for them. Of course, based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric, there are concerns. Women, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, members of the LGBT community and so on, all have legitimate reservations. But there is one, often forgotten, faction of society that is utterly terrified – the humble Californian technologist.

California, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of Hilary Clinton, is of course, the epicentre of the tech industry. Many tech firms have raised concerns about Trump’s extreme policies and now it would seem that some of the high-profile technologists in the Golden State are taking matters into their own hands by pushing for Californian independence. 

While - on the face of it - this sounds like a joke, there is now some serious momentum behind the movement. 

The Yes California Independence Campaign aims to call a referendum in 2019, which will give Californians the chance vote on their state seceding from the United States.

They haven’t quite settled on an appropriate catchphrase at this stage – with Calexit, Califrexit and Caleavefornia all in contention. To many, the referendum was regarded as a bit of fridge movement; but as the votes came on Tuesday night, influential names in the tech sector began throwing their weight behind the idea. 

Uber investor and Hyperloop co-founder Shervin Pishevar, tweeted that he intended to fund a “legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation”.

And it seems he was serious. He told CNBC: "It's the most patriotic thing I can do”.

"We can re-enter the union after California becomes a nation," he said. "As the sixth largest economy in the world, the economic engine of the nation and provider of a large percentage of the federal budget, California carries a lot of weight."

He’s certainly right about that. By numbers alone, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland. 

Other tech investor heavyweights backed Pishevar. Dave Morin tweeted: "I'm in and will partner with you on it.” 

What is the rest of Silicon Valley saying?

Other heavy hitters in Silicon Valley are, of course, taking a more considered approach. It’s interesting to note that several of the CEOs in Silicon Valley may have personal reasons to dislike Trump. The chiefs at Microsoft and Google are both immigrants, while Tim Cook at Apple remains the only openly gay CEO in the Fortune 500. But any personal misgivings they may harbour were swept to one side. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella posted a blog on LinkedIn, in which he didn’t say much of anything.

“The results are of importance around the world, and I know that interest is shared among Microsoft employees,” Nadella wrote. “We congratulate the president-elect, and look forward to working with all those elected yesterday. Our commitment to our mission and values are steadfast, and in particular fostering a diverse and inclusive culture.”

Tim Cook has not made a public statement on the matter, but in a leaked memo to Apple staff, his feelings were more than apparent as he urged for unity.

"While there is discussion today about uncertainties ahead, you can be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed,” Cook said. “Our products connect people everywhere, and they provide the tools for our customers to do great things to improve their lives and the world at large. Our company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world — regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.”

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai again has not made a post-election statement, but earlier this year, he posted a strongly worded article after Trump called for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States.

“The open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance of new Americans is one of the country’s greatest strengths and most defining characteristics,” he said. “And that is no coincidence — America, after all, was and is a country of immigrants.”

“That is why it’s so disheartening to see the intolerant discourse playing out in the news these days — statements that our country would be a better place without the voices, ideas and the contributions of certain groups of people, based solely on where they come from, or their religion.”

Of course, the primary concern for the executives of Silicon Valley is how Trump’s policies will impact their organisations. In certain parts of the valley, for example, as many as two-thirds of people working in STEM fields are foreign-born, according to a study from Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

The President-elect has said that he wants companies like Apple to cease relying on China for manufacturing. 

Over the summer, 100 tech leaders signed an open letter warning that Trump would be ‘a disaster for innovation’. It’s of little surprise then that the campaign for an independent California is starting to gather momentum.

The next Conch Republic 

This isn’t the first attempt at devolution in the United States. In 1982, the United States Border Patrol setup roadblocks between the Florida Keys and Miami to crack down on narcotics and illegal immigrants. The Key West City Council complained to the Federal government repeatedly about the impact this was having on tourism. When the complaints fell on deaf ears, the city took matters into its own hands and declared Key West's independence on April 23, 1982. The Conch Republic was born.

Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister and the Republic immediately declared war against the US, symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval outfit. The Republic surrendered one minute later and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid moments after that.

The New California

While Key West must be applauded for having a keen eye for self-promotion, and a sense of humour, the Yes California campaign is attempting to do things a bit more by the book.

The campaign’s legal justification for such a referendum seems to make sense:

“The Constitution says that each state in the Union shall retain every power which is not by the Constitution given to the federal government. The Constitution does not give the power of secession to the federal government, nor does it expressly prohibit the states from exercising this power. Therefore, the power of secession is reserved to the states, or to the people, per the Tenth Amendment.”

To many, California’s quest to become an independent nation might seem farfetched, impossible, or just plain stupid. But these days, farfetched, impossible and just plain stupid seem par for the course, so we at MicroScope are placing our bets on the New California nice and early.

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